• Bunbury hosts the 8th Australian Indigenous Tourism Conference 2016. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
For the pro-active community of Bunbury hosting the 8th Australian Indigenous Tourism Conference was an obvious step towards rebuilding and reinvigorating their town.
Malarndirri McCarthy

10 Mar 2016 - 2:25 PM  UPDATED 10 Mar 2016 - 4:22 PM

Bunbury in Western Australia is described proudly by its residents as a 'Sea-side Paradise' that needs an injection of encouraging news.

It's also the venue for the opening of the Australian Indigenous Tourism Conference - an event that tourism business operators will help revive the struggling southern region of Perth.

The Chair of the West Australian Indigenous Tour Operator Council (WAITOC) Tahn Donovan tells NITV: “We tried to move the conference around regularly, every second year we take it out of WA because it is a national conference and we try to inspire other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia to get into tourism."

This region south of Perth has had more than its fair share of heartache this year.

On the near three-hour drive from Perth to Bunbury, burnt scrub land is a visible reminder of the fatal fires that killed two people, destroyed nearly 60,000 hectares in Harvey, and over 95 houses in Yarloop, in early in January.

Donovan says it was important to hold the Indigenous Tourism Conference in Bunbury: "We wanted to host it again in WA because last year it was in Alice Springs so yeah, it was timing and a pro-active community."

"You needed a community that could get behind the conference to really make it work. I guess there’s just so much starting to happen here, so timing was just perfect."

Bunbury has a rich history of Aboriginal, French and European cultures. The picturesque images of the setting sun on the Indian Ocean are a reminder of previous times when Bunbury was a thriving port, whaling station and trade centre with a growing population of 300.

Today it’s population is over 30,000.

Donovan says, “this land is Wurdani country and it travels all the way through to where I’m from, Busselton, just south of here. They are known as saltwater people, but you also have the escarpment and the fresh water, so most people identify as salt water people.”

There are over 200 Indigenous tourism ventures in Western Australia.

“There’s a lot of problems.  But there can also be a lot of opportunities. " Donovan tells NITV.

"I think it’s the way you look at it. One of them is non-Aboriginal people delivering information on behalf of us without consent, but that’s changing. There is a greater respect for Indigenous knowledge now."

Other concerns for Indigenous tourism businesses is access to land due to native title issues, and the quest for start up capital to turn their business ideas into reality.

For a state that is set to close essential services to many of its Indigenous communities, the push for tourism enterprises on country has an even greater urgency.

“To me issues can be opportunities and finding out how you work with the constraints that are on you, be it community, be it family , access to country, whatever, there’s still got to be a way and that’s where we come into the fore because we are creative people. Our journeys have traditionally not been easy to get to where we wanted to and that gives us that level of resilience to keep on trying. “ says Donovan.

The WA Minister for Tourism Kim Hames will open the event..

NITV reporter Malarndirri McCarthy is the MC at the West Australian Indigenous Tour Operator Council . Her flight and accommodation has been paid by the conference.